I have been having a blast researching West Point Academy history in the 1850s.
Writing a few chapters about the Academy in those pre-civil war days, when West Point was busy training leaders for both the North and the South, demands not only online research but books, magazines like Bugle Notes and some trekking through the woods at the Point itself.
In the process I have found the perfect title for the first book in my historical fiction series, Flirtation Walk, which will be released next spring.
So help me Alums, with some historical context! Specifically, I have been trying to find out: What buildings were on campus from 1848 to 1952? What were the names of the Cadets? Did anyone become famous? Did they have ‘hops’? Who could walk on Flirtation Walk? Who went to Benny Havens? When did football games begin? Was there a hotel?
It is all part of the writing process. I have thoroughly enjoyed ferreting out info you probably had to walk around and recite on command for a year. Each bit of historical data makes it easier for me to picture the world my heroine saw when her sloop docked at the West Point Wharf (now the North Dock Helipad) and walked around the base.
I have discovered some very fun facts. The Thayer Hotel had not yet been built; its predecessor, the West Point Hotel was located at Trophy Point. But what did the inside look like? Would it have been fancy enough for my heroine to stay in?Could she have walked up the steep incline to the now Trophy Point, from the dock or Flirtation Walk to access her hotel room?
While I have not been able to ascertain for sure that formal dances were regularly held in the 1850s, I did confirm that Cadets were allowed, even encouraged, to use Flirtation Walk starting in the 1840s when the Great Chain battlement was no longer militarily significant. However, I will not be able to walk this walk myself, unless I can find a cadet willing to escort me! Maybe I will have to live vicariously and resort to watching the 1934 movie Flirtation Walk. It seems that the review of the movie on Comet Over Hollywood provides a free downloadable viewing. But there is always a bit of poetic license taken in literature and film. Even though the promotional material for the film says it was filmed at West Point, I’m not sure that some aspects of it are completely accurate. (Could the rock really have a sign on it that says: Kissing Rock?) And what about the beautiful girls scattered around the rock? The place looks a bit crowded!
I can’t make the timing of my book work to include either when Robert E. Lee or Uylsses S. Grant attended the Academy, nor when George Armstrong Custer graduated with the distinction of being Class Goat. I was hoping that my time frame would at least include when Lee was Superintendent, but I might be off by 2 years.
So help me out — leave me a comment and tell me what you know! Give me some names of graduates of the 1850s – like Zetus S. Searle who resigned his commission during graduation leave so he did not have to serve, or William T. Magruder who fought valiantly for the North — and then for the South! That cadet never could make up this mind! Every fact helps set the stage for my cast of characters.
I’m having so much fun researching, it is hard to make time to write!
© Jane F. Collen September 21, 2018 IndexCardCure.com fun with the writing process
(disclaimer: the poster and scene pictured is for purposes of commenting on the 1934 movie of Warner Brothers only)